NYR 2, TOR 1 (SO) - Rangers Control Play and The King Slams the Door

The Rangers (38-19-2, 78 points) visited Toronto (28-20-11, 67 points), their third-straight opponent that currently owns an Eastern Conference playoff position, looking to rebound from their disappointing overtime loss to Carey Price and the Canadiens. While the Blueshirts outplayed the Leafs from the drop of the puck, it took them until the third period to finally get on the board.

Both Orginal Six squads are built on speed, but through the first two periods, it was New York’s four-line attack that dictated play. The Rangers generated zone time and chances regardless of who was on the ice, and their first nine shots all came from different skaters. Specifically, Mats Zuccarello, who has scored in seven straight with 15 points against Toronto in his career, was creative and dangerous while Rick Nash had a number of great chances, and Michael Grabner was robbed of a glorious shorthanded opportunity.

However, for the second game in a row, the Rangers were slowed by a goalie who entered the game slumping yet played outstanding. Frederik Andersen was just 2-3-2 with a goals against average of 4.03 and a lowly save percentage of .878 in his last nine appearances but played phenomenal hockey. He stonewalled great chance after great chance and, through two periods, had 25 saves. He finished with 37 total.

Henrik Lundqvist, to his credit, was also solid on the high-quality but infrequent chances he faced through the first two periods. In the third, he was fantastic in making 13 saves as the Leafs battled back. He finished with 32 saves in what shifted from a Rangers route to a goaltending duel.

The Leafs, who entered the game second in the league in first-period goals, got the only tally of the first two periods on a fortuitous early bounce. A double deflection of a point shot landed on Connor Brown’s stick with a wide open net and he cashed in to give Toronto the 1-0 lead, which held until the third period.

Brandon Pirri, inserted into the lineup for Pavel Buchnevich in an effort to boost a struggling power play, made his presence felt when the Rangers scored just as their second opportunity expired. It was Pirri’s heavy shot wide that generated the juicy rebound J.T. Miller was able to put home to tie the game 1-1.

Pirri also showcased his dangerous wrist shot a couple of times at even strength and contributed to a fourth line that, like they did against Montreal, earned good zone time and generated chances. Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast have great chemistry and have played well together for some time, regardless of who the other winger is.

In overtime the goaltenders were, to quote newly busted Hockey Hall-of-Famer Sam Rosen, “Brilliant!” While the Rangers controlled the first four minutes of overtime and forced Andersen to make five strong saves, Hank’s two saves came on breakaway chances by Leo Komarov and Auston Matthews.

Both Swedes deserved the win, but in the shootout, it was Zuccarello, who drew the power play that led to the third-period goal, and Zibanejad, scoreless in his last 15 games, who solved Andersen on back-to-back attempts for the win.

At the end of the day, the box score and scoreline won’t do this game justice. While the final 25 minutes and the shootout were exciting, the game would have been a convincing win for New York if not for Andersen’s performance. The Blueshirts have now won eight out of their last ten and, with 80 points, have surpassed Columbus for third place in the Metropolitan division. The two clubs will meet on Sunday.

The Rangers are in action again on Saturday as they visit the division-rival New Jersey Devils.

Notes: Brady Skjei is the third Ranger rookie defenseman to have 25 assists in a season (Brian Leetch, Michael Del Zotto); Toronto entered with the league’s top-ranked power play but was 0-2; the Rangers won 67% of the faceoffs tonight; J.T. Miller leads the Rangers with 47 points; The Rangers are 16-7-2 in one-goal games; This was the Rangers’ fifth win when trailing entering the third period.

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